RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A Richmond man has been sentenced to two years in prison after he pleaded guilty to five counts of animal fighting and seven counts of animal cruelty stemming from an investigation that started in February 2018.
Carlton Hardy, 52, was charged after police and Richmond Animal Care and Control officers executed a search warrant at his home in the 1800 block of Ingram Avenue. RACC officers seized more than a dozen dogs and several firearms.
Some of the dogs looked “terrible” and needed emergency vet care, according to Christie Chipps Peters, director of RACC. Dog fighting is suspected in the case.
In court, prosecutors with Attorney General Mark Herrings' office described horrible conditions, including equipment used to train dogs to fight, inadequate food and shelter, would dressings and abrasions on the dogs.
Additionally, text messages, photos and videos were found on Hardy’s phone connecting him to dog fighting.
The investigation launched after a neighbor called in with a tip about the dogs. RACC officers watched the house for about a week in order to obtain enough evidence to conduct a search warrant. Neighbors say multiple dogs appeared to be pit bulls.
RACC says that tip allowed the animals to have another chance.
“It really helps us save lives. It really does,” said Chipps Peters. “A community that cares enough to blow the whistle on somebody and say, ‘This isn’t right.’”
Chipps Peters said in February that Richmond is experiencing an uptick in animal abuse cases. Neglect and cruelty convictions doubled in 2017.
"Sadly, the number of egregious cases that we are investigating… is blowing out of the water," continued Chipps Peters.
Six of the dogs had to be put down, according to authorities. The remaining six were able to be rehabilitated and are now with new families or rescues.
One pit bull who survived is named, Rhea. She now has a second chance at life with her new mom, Melissa.
For the first time, Rhea can run, roll and revel in as much affection as possible.
"She is the sweetest thing in the world. All she wants to do is snuggle,” said Melissa, who asked that her last name not be used.
For the first approximate eight years of her life, Rhea lived in a crate at Hardy’s home, which was not large enough to allow her to stand. Veterinarians who examined Rhea said she was bred at least a half-dozen times to supply Hardy’s dog fighting ring.
Her mammary glands have been left permanently inflamed. Her face is scarred from abrasions and cuts that were never properly treated. Rhea’s teeth were shaved so she wouldn't bite the male dogs she was forced to mate with.
Melissa says Rhea only has about four teeth left in her mouth.
“Her immune system is very worn out...and weak,” said Melissa. "She just loves to roll around and be outside, and the goal is to keep her as healthy as possible for as long as possible, so she can have some years of joy…to offset the years that weren’t great.”
In 2015, Attorney General Mark Herring created the nation’s first OAG Animal Law Unit to aid local prosecutors in animal cruelty and welfare cases. Since then, Herring’s Animal Law Unit has handled more than 936 cases.
“How our society allows animals to be treated says something about who we are as people and human beings. And it is really important that when there is someone out there who is doing something like this, that we hold them accountable and make sure that this operation doesn’t happen in Virginia anymore,” said Herring.
Herring says that often animal cruelty cases are tied to other types of issues, including domestic abuse, drug and alcohol problems and illegal gambling. Herring says he’s also created avenues for animal control and domestic violence units work more closely together.
Hardy will be sentenced May 10.
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